The murder of the Israeli athletes at the '72 Munich Olympics, and the Israeli revenge campaign that followed, spawned many books and films. But in all of them, one figure remains anonymous: Ahmed Bouchikhi, accidentally murdered by the Mossad in the ‘Lillehammer affair.’ We set out on his trail
One morning in September 1994, shortly after the French musician Jalloul “Chico” Bouchikhi parted ways with the Gipsy Kings, the successful flamenco-pop group he founded, he got an unexpected phone call. On the line was a UNESCO representative who sounded distraught. The United Nation’s cultural organization was organizing a special concert to mark the first anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, in the presence of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat – with the participation of the Gipsy Kings, she said. But now, at the 11th hour and with 24,000 tickets sold, they had been informed that the band had missed the flight to Oslo. Would Bouchikhi agree to appear in their place with his new band, Chico & the Gypsies, and prevent a fiasco?
“I said yes. I arrived with my musicians, we informed the audience that the Gipsy Kings couldn’t make it, but that I was their founder. We played ‘Bamboleo’ and other of the band’s hits, and it was a big success,” Bouchikhi recalls. “At the end, Peres and Arafat came onstage and congratulated me. I shook hands with them. My brothers, who lived in Paris and had come for the concert, took pictures of the event.”
That appearance launched Bouchikhi, who is now 67, on a course he had never imagined for himself. He was appointed UNESCO Envoy for Peace in 1996, acting as a goodwill ambassador and promoting messages of tolerance and peace at his performances. But if today he looks back on his past, emotionally, almost in disbelief, as the “story of a special fate” – it’s not because the Gipsy Kings missed their flight and he filled in for them. The reason is that, unbeknownst to any of the others involved at the time – neither UNESCO, Peres or Arafat, nor those who were supposed to ensure their safety – fate or chance had placed the two leaders on a stage with a musician whose brother was mistakenly murdered by Israeli intelligence agents because they thought he was a Palestinian terrorist.